The H pattern shifter, also known as a manual gearbox, is a staple in racing car history. The H pattern shifter has been around for nearly 100 years and is still favoured by many professional racing car drivers today. There are even those who argue that the H pattern shifter has several advantages over paddle shifters, the go-to gearbox for many sports cars.
The concept of the H pattern shifter dates back to the early 1900s when motor racing was in its infancy. Manual gearboxes were the norm, and the H pattern shifter emerged as an innovation. The gearbox, which is named after the shape of the shift lever, features a gate with multiple positions for the gear lever.
One advantage of the H pattern shifter over paddle shifters is that it provides greater driver engagement. The driver must physically engage with the gearbox, feeling how the gears connect and disengage, giving the driver a sense of control over the car. Paddle shifters provide a more hands-off approach: the driver simply pulls a lever mounted behind the steering wheel, and the car shifts gears automatically, allowing the driver to focus on steering and acceleration. For those seeking an immersive driving experience, a car with an H pattern shifter is the way to go as favoured by many Porsche and BMW purists.
The H pattern shifter gained popularity in many different racing categories throughout the 20th century. The gearbox is a defining feature of muscle cars and drag racing vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Corvette and Ford Mustang to name a few. H pattern shifters were also the norm in Formula One from the 1950s through the 1980s.
Legendary racing car driver Ayrton Senna, one of the greatest F1 drivers of all time, famously used an H pattern shifter to win the 1988 Japanese Grand Prix in a McLaren Honda. Senna raced against his teammate Alain Prost, who used a paddle shifter. Senna's victory confirmed the superiority of the H pattern shifter, as he was able to outmaneuver Prost during the race due to greater control over his car's gearbox.
Even in today's racing world, the H pattern shifter remains a popular choice for many professional drivers. NASCAR, where a manual shifter is mandatory, is just one example of a racing series that has kept the H pattern gearbox around instead of adopting the paddle shifter. From 2022 NASCAR now used a manual sequential.
The BDH Race Sim Hardware gearbox and H Pattern Shifter is one of the most prominent on the market today, allowing virtual racing fans to use a mechanical H pattern shifter as part of their virtual Sim racing experience. Known by many as one of the best on the market, it gives users a level of realism that many crave when driving some of the most historic race cars.
Despite the threat of extinction, the H pattern shifter remains a crucial piece of racing car history and everyday driving
for most people. It's hard to imagine classic muscle cars or F1 racing from the '60s to the '90s without them. For those seeking greater driver engagement and challenge, there's still no substitute for the H pattern shifter. And for those who appreciate the history of racing, the H pattern shifter will always remain an integral component, reminding us of the early days of automotive innovation.